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Konrad Werner: What’s the point of the SPD?

Why does Sigmar Gabriel exist? Who castrated the centre-left? Is this what German politics has come to: wondering who will be Merkel's next gimp?

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© Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.de / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Peer Steinbrück is basically okay, but he seems to be a bit confused. “Regardless of his job as party head, [Sigmar] Gabriel is the one who is best for the job of chancellor candidate,” he told the Bild am Sonntag yesterday. Oh, but by the way: “The SPD doesn’t mobilise anyone, it doesn’t awake any enthusiasm, it doesn’t stir anyone.”

Right there, summed up in one large, brainy man, is the state of constant panic that is being in the SPD. The Labour Party in Britain is in the same funk, but just with more spectacular self-loathing. This is how they seem to feel most of the time: I know we’re a bit crap, but we’re doing our best, and anyway we’re worried that if we do anything else maybe even fewer people will vote for us. That air of castrated people came through even more last Friday, when the SPD’s Schleswig Holstein state premier Torsten Albig gave up on the next election (which is not until 2017). Merkel would win it anyway, he said, so let’s just hope she lets us be in the coalition again – which is pretty much guaranteed anyway, since Merkel’s last gimp, the FDP, has now been sucked dry.

In fact, Albig said, maybe the SPD shouldn’t even bother having a chancellor candidate in the next election at all, because Angela Merkel is “doing her job very well.” “I think it’s very difficult to win an election against this chancellor.” God, this is depressing. Like listening to an alcoholic saying he’s about to attempt a wank. Even on a political level, it’s ridiculous. For one thing, Merkel has never looked weaker than she is now, and after Greece her anti-leadership leadership style has never looked more flawed. One reason why the incident with that Palestinian girl became such a big deal was because people realised at a subconscious level that this is what Merkel has been doing to them this whole time, how she deals with every problem – she soothes you until you’re numb. She’s not doing her job very well. She’s doing it okay, but only by barely doing it at all.

Just over a week ago, after a huge raging debate, 60 CDU MPs rebelled against Merkel and voted against her plan to continue negotiations with the Greek government. At least 1 in 5 of her own party aren’t happy with her policy on an issue that is tearing Europe apart. And yet the SPD is resigned to its fate – Sigmar Gabriel is flailing around, trying to sound “tough” on Greece, meeting up with PEGIDA, in a way that is not going to get any more right-wing people voting for him. And if there’s anyone more pussywhipped than Sigmar Gabriel, it’s the rest of the SPD, who have allowed Gabriel – an amoral, principle-free void like Merkel, except without her political skills – to become their leader. The truth is there are people out there waiting to vote for a real SPD leader. This is a party, after all, that still runs nine of the 16 German state governments. I mean, how hard can it be?